According to the California Family Code, section 297, domestic partners “are two adults who have chosen to share one another’s lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.” The definitions of such domestic partnerships vary from state-to-state, and none confers any of the over 1100 rights afforded to married couples by the United States government. Because of the differences in laws, the health insurance plans available to these couples are equally varied.
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Therefore, the short answer is yes there rules, but they are very specific to where you live and work. If you’re thinking about getting a domestic partner health insurance policy, it pays to do some homework and shop around.
How is “Domestic Partnership” defined legally for insurance purposes?
There are two basic types of domestic partners, those granted by an employer, and those defined by a state or municipal law. Keep in mind that these are also called “Civil Unions” in some jurisdictions.
Before you think about purchasing a domestic partnership health insurance policy, you should determine your legal status in the state or locality in which you live. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a list and links for all states at their website covering civil unions and domestic partnership statutes. Find Law has a comprehensive list at their website.
How do employer granted benefits plans work?
In the workplace, domestic partnership benefits are granted by an employer. Who qualifies for coverage depends on what the employer defines the partnership as being.
This is not like a legal marriage; the benefits only accrue to qualified employees on the payroll or retired. Employers may require an employee to provide a domestic partnership registration before any benefits accrue, and since the law is fuzzy on these documents, a consultation with an attorney is recommended to make sure you are in compliance with their requirements.
Since there is no force of law associated with these employer rules, these benefits may change at any time or disappear altogether anytime the employer so decides. The only exception would be if the benefits were part of a negotiated labor contract that a union negotiated on behalf of its members. However, in that event, if the company or union dissolves the agreement, the benefits are gone. If you were to change employers, the benefits would be gone in almost all cases.
Another consideration is that the cost of employer provided domestic partner health insurance might be taxed as regular income.
How are plans created due to law different?
Legal status has been granted by many states and localities with the rights varying according to the government body issuing the registration. Under such domestic partnership registration, benefits range from no benefits in a few states to nearly equal of a traditional legal marriage in others. States may not recognized the rights granted by other states, however some do. Under some of these state laws, same sex marriages or civil unions are accorded rights that insurance companies must honor.
To date, no American insurance company has offered an insurance plan for domestic partners that was not employer sponsored. This will likely change in the future, as laws expand and change for domestic partners and those in civil unions. Check with any prospective insurance companies that you are considering to see what plans and options they may offer.
Are there significant differences in prices and coverage for domestic partners?
Currently, the prices and plans for employer offered domestic partner health insurance policies are about the same as found in plans for people in traditional legal marriages. A growing body of evidence points to higher costs to insurance companies expressed as health care costs as a percent of premiums paid.
Since healthcare costs for domestic partners are not currently tracked or reported separately, insurance companies cannot know for sure how domestic partner benefits policies will affect them financially. You can expect that the insurance companies will seek to raise their rates to protect their profitability sometime in the near future. In most states, some form of an insurance commission must be petitioned for such rate increases and public input is generally a part of the process.